In an e-mail exchange between my friend Elizabeth and I, she recited a quote from her workshop professor, the poet Maxine Kumin: “when you publish something, you give it to the ages to do with it what they will.” The saying comes from the inability to be in a million places at once as people read your work: you can’t appear over someone’s shoulder as they parse through your language, offering explanation of what you were going through at that particular time or what you meant by placing those particular words together. It is a way to both remove authorship from work and also attach it symbiotically: in English Literature survey courses we are told to remember the context of where Emerson or Whitman is writing from—sometimes even more than the work itself, and so to be reminded of this concept shocks us initially—it is against what we are taught.
Of course the idea of “the ages” has gotten much smaller with the instantaneous world of self-publication: I have tweeted eighteen times in the past 12-hours, each one with my name or a variation of my name attached to the phrase uttered—my football team is doing terribly, here is a turn of phrase I found clever, here is a personal message to myself in an attempt to make myself better and alert the world that I am trying to make myself better. Someone could interpret an out-of-text quotation from last week’s episode of Community as an original statement directed towards them: I am not around to let them know the idea (or even the motivation) behind the publication, and this causes a breakdown in communication.
This brings me, of course, to Kanye West, the Mensa court jester of the world these days—the guy who does backflips and entertains and generally plays the fool while a select few at the dinner table whisper that he is actually absolutely brilliant. I am and always have been a Kanye apologist: I’m that friend of yours with the terrible significant other, the one who gets drunk and makes all of your friends feel awkward and threatened, who will pull you aside and be like “she’s really sweet and smart when we’re alone!” Part of this is because I do believe he is a musical genius, (his lyrics often leave something to be desired, but usually only when he’s talking about how awesome he is), but a lot of it stems from the fact that I identify a great deal with Kanye West, and attacks on him and his actions seem like attacks on my own psyche. Of course, I am absolutely nothing like Kanye West—I’m a white kid from New Jersey who can’t fit into anything Louis Vuitton makes and who has never interrupted an award show (the Taylor Swift thing was simply the most recent event—at an MTV Europe show, Kanye lost Best Video to the French electro-duo Justice and stormed the stage: he later hired the people who made the video to make a video for his song “Good Life”—if you can’t beat ‘em, hire ‘em.) But there is something about Kanye’s bravado that speaks to me more than, say, Jay-Z, or indie rockers writing about the dirge of suburbia (something I am more familiar with than, say, eating at Nobu with no shoes). To me, Kanye is more like Joan Didion: a fashionable bitch living in a world that I can never comprehend but want to hear about—houses with elevators, giant fucking sunglasses and most importantly, a glamorous disorder of things, dreamers of the golden dream. These descriptions of worlds difficult to comprehend: Haight-Ashbury during the 1960s, award show after-parties, are juxtaposed with heartbreak and thoughts about decadence—feeling alone in the world around one’s self requires a knowledge of the world around one’s self.
Kanye’s new album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, is gigantic. It is an overproduced, over-sentimental monster of an album. To be fair, Kanye has never been a minimalist: when you hire super-producer and cinematic score mainstay Jon Brion to help produce your second album, that concept goes out the window, even if you do decide to create an album only using 808 drum samples. Yet whereas his previous album juxtaposed fear and frustration with simplicity, this one goes the opposite way: Kanye West cannot express his emotions in a stripped down and quietly genuine way—we cannot separate his ego and actions from his emotions—it seems disingenuous to his character. And so, we believe his ire in “All of the Lights” when he tells the story of a jealous lover who ruins his family over horns that sound lifted from Rocky and the sexy Bahamian-warble of Rihanna, because that’s the only way we would listen, and that is the only way that we understand. Sitting in your room all bummed out and listening to The National is so played out, so trite, so cliché—it just doesn’t register these days. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is like crying at your own birthday party amongst cake, a packed dance floor, and all of your friends. It is exclamation points and CAPS LOCK in your status updates, thirty-five tweets in two hours. It is not quiet, and it is not meant to be, nor should it be.
While whatever we create or produce becomes the world’s upon unleashing, in a sense, it also becomes ours. Many of us start writing, or painting, or composing music, or blogging in order to take something inside of us and make it tangible: to mold it into something outside of ourselves that expresses what is inside of us. We feel better after going on comment thread rants, or having a manic poetry writing session, or by wailing away on a piano. In A Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion documents the days after her husband’s sudden death and her daughter’s hospitalization (her daughter would die after completion of the project yet before publication). By creating something out of the wreckage, she believes that she can control it—literally: she believes that through the power of thought she can wish her husband back to life, that if she performs the right actions, something unavoidable can be avoided. West does this as well—by imagining his life as a fantasy it actually becomes a fantasy, something that only exists within his mind and does not need to be apologized for: the movements grander and more opulent because it cannot truly be real, he has convinced himself that it is necessary to make the grandiose even more so, to the point of absurdity, to something incomprehensible.
And perhaps this is why I’ve listened to this album non-stop since its release—and perhaps this is why I read Didion on anniversaries of loved ones’ deaths—and perhaps this is why I use exclamation points where I shouldn’t use exclamation points—and perhaps that is why I am writing this review: in order to attach myself to something larger than myself in hopes of delivering something magical to not only myself, but to the world I find myself lost in. As I write this, Kanye is tweeting about a Versace show that he could not attend. Like Kanye, I did not attend this show either—the same way I cannot be there when you read this, the same way I cannot wish myself there, the same way you cannot wish me there.